The Old Sugar Distillery produces small-batch liquors made from Midwestern ingredients. Its cornerstone concoction, the Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur, is distilled from dark-brown beet sugar and then aged in a wooden womb of American oak before being subtly sweetened with pure Wisconsin honey. The Cane and Abe Freshwater Rum, named in honor of President Lincoln and his favorite criminal-scaring stick, is made with cane sugar lovingly beamed up from the saccharine states of Hawaii and Louisiana and then aged in charred American oak barrels. These luscious liquids can be sampled either by sipping a freshly made cocktail ($6) at the distillery's long wooden bar, or by buying a bottle ($30) for midnight sips in the dead chill of winter. The Old Sugar Distillery also offers free tours and tastings with up-close views of the large copper pot still.
Vintage Brewing Company deluges devotees with bountiful beers born out of Belgian, German, and American traditions. These refreshing hop-laden selections rest beside a slew of creative culinary concoctions, many of which comprise locally sourced ingredients. A plate of AJ's pretzels ($6) saunters in at the beginning of a feeding frenzy, with house-made pretzels perched on a pedestal and set to dive into a sea of VBC beer mustard and cheese dip. Vintage Brewing Company ups the burger ante with bratwurst burgers ($10.50) that explore what happens when two 4-ounce grilled brats are picked to live inside a beer-bread pretzel roll with oatmeal stout bacon sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and beer-cheese sauce. Throughout the visit, diners can pair plates with an array of bottles and cans, beers on tap, and wine.
Riverside dishes up a delectable menu of American favorites and handcrafted beverages against the backdrop of the Milwaukee River's placid flow. Feast on a fleet of specialty sandwiches, including a quartet of grilled paninis teeming with tasty portobello, prime rib, or tuscan chicken ($8.95–$10.95) and a saucy slew of barbecue baby back ribs lounging with fresh veggies on a grilled kaiser roll ($8.95). Carnivorous patrons can sink mouth swords into a lean petite sirloin filet ($15.95) or savor a cluster of skewered tequila-lime shrimp grilled in butter ($18.95). A crab and lobster ravioli bursting with crab mousse, drawn butter, and a charming bouquet of fresh herbs courts a shy blush alfredo bedecked in a ravishing parmesan crumble ($24.95).
Bon Appétit's bright-red façade, alluring green doorway, and smells of fresh cooking coax patrons in to where they can peruse a frequently changing menu. The eatery's dishes are largely prepared with locally produced ingredients, including organic eggs and grass-fed, natural meat. Brunch opens its coat to offer passersby an ever-evolving selection of sandwiches ($7.75), such as the BLT on sourdough, and the Ben Yeddar, in which chopped roasted egg, feta cheese, shredded carrot, onion, roasted cashews, mild green chilies, and a cumin-infused mayonnaise are laid to rest on fresh pita bread. Broaden taste horizons with treats such as panquecas ($7.95), Brazilian crêpes stuffed with fresh banana, topped with honey, and served with a choice of Spanish potato salad, polenta, or fruit. Recent dinner specials include Algerian pan-seared chicken, marinated in a spicy bath infused with roasted anise seed and served with special rice ($15.95).
The eclectic organizers at Red Frog Events take a lighthearted and fun-focused approach to building their adventurous events, such as obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, and themed bar crawls, to connect city dwellers with local neighborhoods. Their creative, interactive offerings include regularly occurring competitions such as the Warrior Dash, Great Urban Race, and Beach Dash, the proceeds from which usually benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Like the idea of having a pet rock, their events have grown more popular annually, and frequently spring up in cities across the United States.
Consistently voted Best of Madison in Madison Magazine and Madison's Favorite in Isthmus magazine, Steve's offers artisanal cheese, gourmet chocolates, and specialty meats. The University Ave. location is home to The Cheese Course, a specialty store-within-a-store offering local and obscure artisan cheeses lovingly hand-cut to order. Snag creamy Délice de Bourgogne triple cream ($16.49/lb.) and sharp Bob's 10-year cheddar ($18.49/lb.) along with Potter's organic artisan crackers ($4.50). Savory and sweet sauces and spreads include the quince and apple preserves ($5.49) and Kelly's Kitchen stuffed Peppadews ($4.99), while paper-thin prosciutto di Parma ($19.99/lb.) and frozen duck breasts ($16.49/lb.) are perfect for dinner, appetizers, or sharing with your second mouth. Steve's also offers velvety gourmet chocolates from local chocolatiers Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier and David Bacco Chocolats. The friendly staff will liberate your inner gourmand with helpful suggestions, and can also recommend wine and beer pairings.
"The wine industry is overwhelming and confusing to many," says wine steward Merrell Tomlin, "but once you understand the basic premise that wine was created to make food taste better, you're on your way to a lifetime of dining enjoyment." Tomlin, who has visited hundreds of vineyards over the last 30 years, shares his accumulated knowledge at wine tastings and wine-appreciation courses he runs through Learn Vino. During each session, participants learn proper food and wine pairings for varieties as light as a riesling or heavy as a cabernet. Tomlin also fills students in on correct glassware, ideal serving temperatures, and how to keep wine from getting spoiled or throwing tantrums in the cheese aisle. An education in proper terminology helps students to make savvy observations about a wine's nose or mouthfeel. More advanced appreciation courses last four weeks and cover topics such as the history of wine or the eight "noble grapes" of France, from which many popular wines are made.